Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: DHBs in New Zealand have either peaked or close to it – expert

Almost all district health boards in New Zealand have reached their peak in Covid-19 case numbers, and if they haven’t, they will be very close to it, says one public health expert.

Just over 14,100 community cases of the virus were reported nationwide on Friday, with a rolling seven-day average of 17,673. There were 943 people in hospital, including 25 in intensive care. A further five Covid-related deaths were reported, taking the total number of publicly reported deaths to 156.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said case numbers yesterday were fewer than the previous day across all DHBs.

“Numbers are less and that’s the first time we’ve seen that,” Baker said. “It looks like every DHB in New Zealand has now passed its peak – or if they haven’t, they’re very close to it.”

Yesterday’s Covid-19 cases were in Northland (536), Auckland (3,498), Waikato (1333), Bay of Plenty (956), Lakes (416), Hawke’s Bay (841), MidCentral (599), Whanganui (205), Taranaki (470), Tairāwhiti (232), Wairarapa (164), Capital and Coast (906), Hutt Valley (549), Nelson Marlborough (416), Canterbury (1937), South Canterbury (135), Southern (890) and the West Coast (39).

The location of six of the cases was unknown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that as the Omicron outbreak plateaued, the Government was working on reshaping the protection frameworks.

She also warned of “future peaks” on the horizon, particularly in the winter months, and the threat of new variants.

On mandates and vaccine passes, Ardern said the Government looking at when the Omicron peak would be, adding that Auckland was currently plateauing while modelling for the rest of the country showed it happening at the end of March.

Baker said that by May New Zealand would’ve probably “come down the other side of the major pandemic wave” and could be in a situation to relax the use of control measures in various ways.

“We won’t be back to the baseline that we’ve been used to for the last two years of very low cases. It will be a new baseline of quite high numbers [in the thousands]. That’s why we will need to think very hard about what mix of tools from that we do need to keep going.”

New Zealand needed to keep a set of key control measures – a “pandemic tool kit” – that could be turned up or down depending on the future evolution of the pandemic.

Baker said this toolkit should include a border biosecurity system that potentially included purpose-built quarantine facilities; a successor to the traffic light system/alert level system that provided a framework for organising control measures for a full range of current and future pandemic scenarios; maintenance of vaccine passes to support situations where individuals needed evidence of vaccination status, such as for international travel and potentially high-risk environments like aged-care facilities; and refined vaccine mandates for agreed workforce groups in areas such as health, aged care and first responders.

Baker said New Zealand also needed an enhanced public health infrastructure – which included the already in development Māori Health Authority and a Public Health Agency – as well as a national pandemic response centre to continue co-ordinating the Covid-19 responses with capacity for managing future major public health emergencies.

Dr Collin Tukuitonga, associate professor at the University of Auckland, said the overall case numbers were expected to jump around a bit.

“The problem is, not everyone is testing and not everyone who is testing is reporting [their results], and that’s part of the reason why it will bounce around. I wouldn’t get too excited about the rest of the country because it may well bounce around for a while. But I have some confidence that the numbers in Auckland are indeed dropping.”

As of yesterday, 95 per cent of New Zealanders had received two doses of the Covid vaccine and 72.8 per cent of those eligible had been boosted. Of children aged 5-11, 53.6 per cent had received one dose of vaccine. For Māori and Pacific children, these figures were 34.3 per cent and 46.4 per cent, respectively.

Tukuitonga said a strong focus needed to be on increasing pediatric vaccine rates.

“Obviously, kiddies take it home. We know from overseas experience, and here, that if you have one case in the house, chances are everyone in the house will be affected.”

For parents who did have questions about the vaccine, Tukuitonga said it was important that they asked their family doctor, nurse or health care provider.

“Ask questions. I think it is important parents get their questions answered because obviously, they won’t vaccinate their kids if they’ve still got lingering concerns and uncertainty. I’m talking about parents who have legitimate questions before they would decide.”


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